Turning to Nature to Cultivate Caregiver Wellbeing

Nature is all around us. We interact with it on a daily basis, though often mindlessly and with little intention. It’s a fairly new discipline to look at nature for its power in wellbeing and illness. Our Center’s own Caregiver Wellness Initiative has been practicing this connection between health and nature since its inception in 2012. The Initiative’s various programs are all held at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, providing a powerful and soothing environment for the self-care and mindfulness practices that take place in these programs.

The tie between nature and health, as it pertains to dementia, was recently brought into the media in a New York Times article by renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks. In his piece titled, The Healing Power of Gardens, Dr. Sacks shares, ““I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brain, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” Research is growing in the pursuit of understanding exactly how nature supports personal health and public health, and its implications for ongoing wellbeing, disease management, and caregiving.

Our connection to nature is deeply personal and it is also a universal, shared experience, just as our experience of suffering and coping with illness, offering powerful avenues for support. Dr. Sacks brought this deeply rooted connection to light stating, “I have a number of patients with very advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease… Put them in front of a flower bed with some seedlings, and they will know exactly what to do. I have never seen a patient plant something upside down.”

Over the past seven years the Caregiver Wellness Initiative programs have grown into an array of offerings, including monthly sessions, eight-week courses, and semiannual retreats. Now, for the first time, these programs are expanding beyond Ann Arbor to areas across the state through the Initiative’s new THRIVE program. As these programs continue to grow and expand, a natural garden environment is built into the program’s foundation.

For more information about the Caregiver Wellness Initiative and to register for upcoming programs, please visit alzheimers.med.umich.edu/wellness-initiative.